We were sitting in my room. Jeremy sprawled on my computer chair, zir feet propped up on my footstool, while I sat cross legged on my bed with Blackie draped across my lap. Blackie was the only happy one in my room. Her purrs echoed loudly while she butted her head against my hand and arm for more scratches. The fur was flying, in a good (albeit sneezy) way.
We’d been in my room talking earlier or rather Jeremy had been talking. Zie’d quite animatedly explained zir plans for zir bedroom. Jeremy wants to build a kitchen counter with space for zir mostly working Tassimo and a real sink, one that has a tank for fresh water and a tank for used water. I’m not sure my insurance would cover a homemade working sink in Jeremy’s bedroom.
Jeremy’s hands moved while zie talked, they fluttered like butterflies. Zie looked very feminine. I called Jeremy over to my dresser and zie waited patiently while I spread bronze eyeshadow across zir eyelids, swiped a tiny bit of blush along zir cheek bones, and put on some lip gloss. I’d gone with the gloss because it’s pale but I should have gone with lipstick instead. The gloss has a gummy, sticky texture; zie winced as soon as it was applied.
Jeremy hurried into the bathroom. “I don’t like it. This isn’t me,” zie said urgently. “How do I get it off?”
“With a washcloth,” I replied. “No, in the closet beside you,” I added as zie reached for the hand towel. Jeremy smiled briefly and reached around the corner.
“This isn’t me,” zie repeated again, sounding scared.
“Come back into my room. We need to talk,” I announced when Jeremy’s face was clean. Zie rolled zir eyes, not really a good sign but hardly unexpected.
“Just let me use the washroom,” Jeremy sighed.
Zie took a while, which I also expected. This was less a break to use the bathroom and more time to work up some courage. I needed this time too.
Jeremy walked in and every bit of planned speech disappeared out of my mind. I was left staring at zir, positive everything I said was going to come out completely wrong.
“Your gender is not determined by the clothes you wear, makeup, your interests, or how you look. It’s determined by how you feel inside. In one way your Nana was right when she talked about clothing and appearance, they aren’t you. In another way Nana was wrong. She’s under the impression that you need to conform and fit in, ignoring your own comfort levels, because the inner you isn’t the same as the outer you. She’s saying this because she fits in; no one wants her to change her appearance. If everyone insisted she wore micro mini skirts and crop tops she’d be really uncomfortable.”
Jeremy smiled and nodded but didn’t try to speak so I continued.
“I want you to understand that I’m not trying to change you. I’m not trying to force you into gender roles. I just don’t know. When you were in the bathroom I couldn’t tell if you didn’t like the makeup because it didn’t suit you or if you were scared to like the makeup. And that scares me. I love you as you, you’re my child, and I want you to be happy with yourself. I want you to feel comfortable expressing yourself.” By this time tears were streaming down my cheeks. I didn’t try to wipe them off. I just kept watching Jeremy.
“When you were little, we used to joke you’d walk away with the mailman if we let you. You thought everyone was your friend and loved being around people. You got a bit older and I let you wander a little more, but not too much. You had to stay in front of the building where I could see you. This bugged you because your friends could go further.” Jeremy nodded zir head. “But considering they were going behind the building to play in the garbage dumpsters…”
I’d found that out later from one of my neighbours. Those bins had maggots in them, which apparently the kids knew because they were throwing them at each other. I’d have intervened if I’d known at the time. Unfortunately the neighbour hadn’t. Jeremy grimaced and nodded again.
“Then you got old enough to go around on your own. I’d walk into stores and have people tell me what a great kid you are. We’d be in [neighbouring town] and people would honk and yell, “Hi Jeremy!” out their car windows. Even when we first moved here, you’d bike around and meet up with kids. But these days the only times you go out are when you’re with me.”
“I feel like I’m losing myself,” Jeremy said hoarsely. “Like I don’t know who I am.”
My gaze focused on zir, waiting for some honest insight, something I could use to help zir.
“That’s why I need a soldering gun,” zie continued.
Or maybe not.
“Every time I make something, I put a bit of myself into it and then it breaks and I lose some of myself. If I had a soldering gun I could make my inventions stronger so they’d last and I wouldn’t keep losing myself.”
“You are not your inventions,” I protested. “You are more than that. You need to see yourself as more than your collection of electronics.”
“Like you are with your writing?” zie asked pointedly. “How would you feel if you couldn’t write anymore?”
I’d be devastated. I’d hate it. But at the same time, I’m more than my writing.
“Jeremy, I have other things. I have my scrapbooking, I talk with friends, I sing, I go for walks, I swim, I bake. You need to find other things-”
I broke off as music began playing in the living room. It was one of Jeremy’s favourite songs. Had zie set an alarm?
“It’s my ringtone,” Jeremy said as zie got up. “I changed it today.”
“Who’s calling?” I asked and zie shrugged.
“I only set a personal ringtone for you.”
It was Emma. They had a great conversation that lasted well over a half hour. My head was pounding by the time they finished. I’d taken some Advil and was crawling into bed.
Jeremy stayed home from school again yesterday due to stress and I’ve got the weekend off. Hopefully we’ll have another chance at an honest conversation. Hopefully I’ll be able to help Jeremy start finding zirself soon.